Houses In Motion

It’s been almost a year since Aunt Val died.
I’m driving with my dad across the San Fernando Valley, on our way to Aunt Val’s house. Though we were all promised that the house would remain in the family, it has been sold, and there are many things to be picked up and moved out. Thankfully, there has been precious little pettiness and bickering within the family about her things so far.
My dad has asked me to help him pick up a china cabinet which belonged to my grandmother, and is intended for my mother.
I wonder why he didn’t ask my younger, stronger brother to help out, but I don’t ask. I’m always happy when my dad asks me to do things with him, so I decide not to push my luck.
We ride mostly in silence, but not uncomfortably. I’m lost in thought, though it won’t occur to me until later that this is the last time I’ll make this drive. This drive that I’ve made since I was in a car seat. I’m thinking about what I could talk to my dad about: baseball? the kids? my family? work? We end up talking about them all, and the drive passes very quickly.
As we drive down Aunt Val’s street, it hits me: this is it. I’ve been asked to help my dad move furniture, but I’m really here to say goodbye to this house that’s been part of my life since I was a child.
A tremendous sadness washes over me as we back into the driveway.
I exchange polite hellos with Aunt Val’s daughter, who is responsible for the selling of the house, and walk inside.
It’s the first time I’ve been there since her death, and the house feels cold and empty. It’s more than just the furniture being gone. It’s her warmth and love that are missing.
Most of the furniture has been moved out, but certain things remain untouched: her bookcase, filled to overflowing with pictures of the family and children’s artwork…some of it mine…still dominates tne side of the living room, the recliners where my great grandparents spent most of the last years of their lives opposite. I remember sitting in my Papa’s chair, while Aunt Val sat next to me, watching Love Boat and Fantasy Island, thrilled that I was staying up past my bedtime, watching shows intended for grownups, putting one over on my parents who would often drop my siblings and me off for the weekend.
I loved those weekends. When we spent time with Aunt Val we were loved. We were the center of the
Universe, and though she was well into her 70s, she would play with us, walk with us to get snacks,
let us stay up late. It was wonderful.
In the living room, the table where Aunt Val would put the artificial tree at Christmas is gone, though it’s footprints still mark the carpet. In my mind, I put it back, fill the space beneath it with gifts, warm the air with the laughter and love of the entire family gathered around it, singing songs and sipping cider.
I blink and the room is empty again. The warm light of memory is replaced with the harsh sunlight of
the fading afternoon. Aunt Val’s dog Missy is nosing at my hand, asking to go outside.
I lead her toward the patio doors. Aunt Val’s dining room table, where the adults would sit at reunions and holiday meals, is still there, covered in paperwork and trash. It’s a little obscene.
When I was little, Aunt Val would always sit at the card table –the kid’s table– with us, and when I was fourteen or so I was moved to the “adult’s table.” The next year I begged to be granted a spot
with her at the kid’s table again.
Missy is impatient. She urges me through the kitchen. I look at the cabinet where my great grandparents kept their Sugar Corn Pops cereal. Regardless of the time of day my brother and sister
and I would arrive at her house, we were always hungry for cereal, and Aunt Val was always happy to
oblige. This cabinet, which I couldn’t even reach, this cabinet which held so many wonders is now empty, and at my eye level. I am sad that my own children will never get to look up at it’s closed door, and proclaim themselves starving with a hunger that can only be cured by a trip to the Honeycomb hideout.
The kitchen counters are littered with dishes and glasses. Notes written in Aunt Val’s handwriting still cling to the refrigerator, surrounded by my cousin Josh’s schoolwork.
They say that when a house is passed over by a tornado, it can do strange things to the things inside. They say that sometimes a whole room can be destroyed, and the table will still be set, candlesticks standing, untouched by the violence of the storm. As I look at the refrigerator, unchanged in nearly a year, I wonder why some things have been left alone while others have been
completely dismantled. It’s like a half-hearted attempt has been made to honor her memory.
I walk onto the patio. Missy runs after a bird, and disappears around the corner of the house, leaving me alone.
I stand on the patio, knowing that it will be for the last time. I see the backyard through the eyes of a child, a teenager, an adult, a parent. I look at Aunt Val’s pool, and remember when I was so small, riding around it on a big wheel seemed to take all day. I remember playing with my cool Trash Compactor Monster in the shallow end, before I was big enough to brave the deep end and it’s mysteries, known only to the Big Cousins. I remember being unable to ever successfully complete a
flip off the diving board, and reflexively rub my lower back.
I look at the slide, and the sobs which have been threatening since I walked into the house begin.
In summer of last year, I’d taken Ryan and Nolan to spend the day with Aunt Val. The three of us sat
with her on the patio, eating hot dogs she’d grilled for us, drinking punch she’d made. The kids talked eagerly with her about their plans for the rest of the summer and the upcoming school year. I watched her listen to them, the same way she’d listened to me say the same things twenty years earlier, happy that they were getting to share in her unconditional love the way I had.
We went swimming. Nolan and Ryan both doing cannonballs and flips, Aunt Val always giving them an approving, “Good for you, kiddo!” after each trick.
God, I can hear her voice as I write this.
When they grew tired of tricks, they took to the slide. They took turns for a few minutes, going head-first, on their backs, on their knees.
Ryan was sitting at the top of the slide, waiting for Nolan to get out of the landing area, when he screamed and raced into the water. I immediately knew something was wrong, and rushed to the water’s edge to meet him.
I got him out, and saw that he’d been stung by a wasp.
We patched him up with baking soda and some Tylenol, and prepared to spend the rest of the afternoon inside, watching TV.
Aunt Val wouldn’t hear any of that. She picked up a broom, and some Raid, and marched out to the angry nest of wasps, which we now knew was just beneath the upper edge of the slide. The wasps were pretty pissed, and beginning to swarm, and I couldn’t stop my 84 year old great aunt from wiping them out, so the kids could continue to play.
I’m looking at the slide, remembering that day, remembering how scared I was that she’d get stung and would go into shock, remembering how much fun the kids had with her.
I remembered that day, and recalled a thought I had back then, watching her battle with those wasps: Aunt Val isn’t going to be with us forever. Some day I’m going to stand here, and she’ll be gone, and I’ll cry.
So I cry. I miss her. I miss her. I miss her. I miss her. It’s not fair that she died. It’s not fair at all. I miss her. She was in perfect health one day, and the next she was gone. It’s not fair, and I miss her, and I have to say goodbye to this house, and that’s not fair either.
The finality of her loss takes hold, and refuses to let go. I cry until my sides hurt and my throat is dry. My cheeks are soaked, my nose is running. It’s fitting that as I bid farewell to the house and person who played such an important part in my childhood, I sob like a child.
After awhile, I pull myself together, take a hard look at the backyard, run my hand along the slide, and say goodbye out loud.
I walk back into the house, and I help my dad load the china cabinet into the car. It is heavy and cuts into my hands as I lift it. I’m nervous about dropping it.
Aunt Val’s daughter comes out of the house. I want to scream at her for selling off this enormous part of my childhood, but I don’t. I continue tying down the cabinet, tell her goodbye, and get into the car.
We pull out of the driveway, and drive down the street for the last time.
I speak effusively with my dad on the drive home. I talk about the kids. I talk about work. I talk about the Dodgers and I ask lots of questions about when I was a kid. I want to cherish this time with him, make the most of it. I don’t want to waste any of the time we have together.
When we get home with the china cabinet, my mom asks me how it was being at Aunt Val’s house.
“Tough,” I tell her.
She understands.
We unload the china cabinet. My dad hugs me tightly and thanks me for helping with him. I tell them
that I love them, and I drive home, alone and silent.
It’s been a year since Aunt Val died.
Truth is, it could be a day, or a decade. She is gone, and I will always miss her.

210 thoughts on “Houses In Motion”

  1. Wil, I’m at work reading your post at lunch. I saw “Aunt Val” in the first sentence and I thought “Uh oh, I better not read this now, I know I’m going to get teary.” But I couldn’t help myself. And I did get teary. It’s nice Aunt Val has a nephew who can tell the world what a loving person she was. Now we all have another memory of her.
    Makes me wish I had an Aunt Val. How wonderful to have had someone in your life like that. And it’s lovely that your memories of her are so clear. That’s a precious thing.

  2. Today is the 16th of October and I just finally read your story from yesterday…I am celebrating my daughters 4th birthday…HAPPY BIRTHDAY Alexis! I am in tears though..I wish my grandmother(MEMAW) was here to see her.I miss her she reminds me of your Aunt Val…a fighter..a great woman..The greatest memory I will ever have..Thank you Wil…your stories are tremendous!

  3. Thanks, Will, for writing that. My Dad died one year and two months (and thirteen days) ago, and it’s still amazing how patiently the tears still wait for moments like this.
    A day, a year, a decade. I get it. Costs too damned much, but I get it.
    You are a better man every time I come through this site.

  4. Wil,
    Thank you for sharing memories of your Aunt Val. She sounded like an amazing woman. Your reflections brought back times from my childhood with my grandparents. It was a wonderful place in my past to visit and I thank you for helping me take that journey.

  5. I believe the “dead” aren’t really dead at all. Things happen that are beyond coincidence – whether it be a light flickering at the precise time you’re thinking about a passed loved one, or a song that was played at their funeral suddenly blasting through the supermarket PA system. I’m quite confident that your Aunt Val is looking down on you – watching over you, protecting you. So when you think of her as gone, remember, she’s still there. Her “love and warmth” are not gone, just transformed.
    And if you don’t believe me, call John Edwards. πŸ˜‰

  6. My mom is Italian and my Nonna (grandma) died quite suddenly this summer. My grandpa passed the year before and so my parents had to make a quick trip over to settle the estate. I wish that we did not live half the world away in the states and I wish that my Mom could have taken everything she wanted with her. However, shipping from Europe to the US is expensive and my parents have three kids in college. My Mom wanted to save everything, old toys, reciepts, TOOTHPICK holders…At first I thought she was crazy, especially if you saw the menagerie of stuff in the house. I can’t imagine only being able to take the most precious items from a house that holds over 60 years of memories.

  7. Wil,
    I must say it was hard to read your story. I am still crying as I am writing this. I lost my grandma on my mom’s side 2 years ago. I was very close to her, she helped raise me and everything. I was over at her house all the time. I miss her so much. Then I lost my grandma on my dad’s side in March of this year. It’s not fair but I guess we all have to go through this type of thing sometime. My 2 grandpas are still here but I dread the day that I will have to go to their houses and get stuff just as you had. They say time helps to ease the pain, which is true it does somewhat,but its still there and I think it will always be. Reading this today has reminded me not to take the rest of my family for granted, they will not always be there. Wil, thanks for sharing this.

  8. Wil that was a really sweet, sad, touching story. that reminds me of how i felt this summer when my Grandmother moved. This summer she moved to one of those asisted care apartments. not that she needed to move there. The closing for her house was about two weeks ago. I can still visit her and everything but before the house closed it felt so empty inside. I can remember all the things i used to do there when i was younger. I would sit on my grandfathers (who i never met) chair and sketch pictures. I also remember i used to garden in her back yard and eat dove bars and make mud pies and bake lace cookies on christmas. I dont think she is ever gonna bake again and I will really miss her cakes and homemade chocolate chip cookies. I had a whole room upstairs with all y stuffed animals and toys and my Stand by me poster on the wall. I always watched Stand by me and a Christmas story at her house. I really miss that house.

  9. Originally I started reading WWDN a few weeks ago due to the Mandrake Linux thingy. Now I’m feeling deeply emotionally touched along with many other people. What a mysterious path that was.
    Thank you Wil for telling your stories.

  10. Dammit, Wil. You slay me, sometimes. I came to your site today to bust your chops (a tad) re: (some of) your views on the impending war with Iraq and then I read this. Truth is, anyone with this much emotion and heart, I’d be fool to not hear you out someday on your views. But not today.
    Thank you for being vulnerable with all of us — sometimes, you simply inspire me.
    Aunt Val sounds like one special lady.

  11. Aw, I think that’s one of the few times in your stories when I see more “raw” emotion like you wanting to scream at her daughter for selling the cabinet. And also, I was very surprised that it’s been a year. I remember reading that story when you first put it up, and it very much does not seem like a year at all.

  12. my mom died when i was 12 and i miss her more now then when she actually passed away. sometimes i cry about it. i cry about my mother passing away more now, than i did when i was 12. actually, come to think of it… i didnt cry when she died. i just stood there, pretending to cry so that my brother and my father wouldnt think im just cold, heartless bastard child. this entry brought all these feelings back and its not bad. im just glad that i can still remember my mother and the way she once was…and feel for her. im sorry about your aunt. it hurts sometimes but, at least find some comfort in the fact that she doesnt have to live here any more. this world is really messed up. (this i going nowhere but, i thought it be nice to share.)

  13. Wil, your feelings about your Aunt Val and visiting her home are everything I ever felt about my beloved Granny who died almost 2 years ago. You moved me back to the best times that I spent with her… my childhood.
    Thank you.

  14. It is always sad to lose somebody you love, a person who’s been with you during your entire life is more like losing a part of yourself and your past, like an entire part of your life has been sliced out.
    I know, I’m rambling. Sorry.
    But the past few messages that have been left on this Blog remind me how meaningless my own daily concerns are in relation to the big picture.
    I think I’m going to have to buy that book when it hits store shelves.

  15. Wil,
    You brought back the memories of when I had to say goodbye to my Grandmother’s house. She died many years ago. Her husband stayed at the house for some time, but he finally moved. I went there to help my mom get some old photo albums and some of the things that she wanted from her childhood. As I walked around the house, I started to cry as I remembering all the days I spent with her. I went into every room and each one holds so many memories. I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much.
    And I cried with you as I read. I feel you pain. Saying goodbye to a loved one is never an easy thing to do. Thank you for sharing such a personal thing. It helps us to remember our own past.

  16. Bernie writes:
    “To me, it is now better to celebrate the lives of the people who are gone, rather than greive their demise. I have adopted All Souls Day (the Day of the Dead) as the day to do just that.”
    Amen, Bernie, I’ll remember Aunt Val along with those I’ve lost this All Souls Day.

  17. That is almost the way it was for me and my sister when we went to my grandmother’s house after she died years ago. It was in her will that her granddaughters come and collect trinkets and dolls and whatnot from her house. When my sister and I showed up, almost everything was GONE. I had asked my aunt where certain things were that probably I only knew were there and I was lied to about them being gone when they really weren’t. I did manage to get alot of my grandmother’s jewelry, including her wedding ring. It is sad when people do those kinds of things out of spite or greed. Please know that the grief and anger will pass, but it will take time. Think about what you have and live every minute to the fullest.

  18. almost everyone has someone like wil’s aunt val in their lives…try writing down a special memory of you and that person…and give it to them while they are still alive…i wrote a song about my grandma and sang it to her while she was gathered with all her friends at the nursing home…it turned out to be the best gift i could ever give…if you haven’t done it before…do it now…put your love into words…and share it with one you love.

  19. where u go wutever you do i will be right here waiting for you
    whatever it takes or how my heart breaks i will be rite here waiting for you

  20. Real sorry about your Aunt Val. From what you have told us she seemed wonderful. My grandmother died eight years ago from lung cancer. *tear* I miss her very much. anyway i have got to go sincerily Justine.

  21. Damn you Wil! You’ve made me cry too.
    I, too, have lost a relative who was a big part of my childhood. I spent a LOT of time with my Mom’s parents while I was growing up. When gramma died I there was sooooo much I wanted to say to her. I was finally able to share it with her one evening while commuting home from work (two hour drive from San Jose to Modesto). I finally let loose and cried for the las hour of the drive. I felt that she was there with me and know now that she would have been proud to see how I’ve grown up.
    It can be haod at times, but I’ll always have wonderful memories of her that I can relive at any time I want.
    Thanks for being honest Wil. It keeps me coming back.

  22. I remember you speaking of all of this last year. About how much you loved her, about “The Prophet” and how you read it for her at the service. Your family, all of them, are truly blessed to have you in their lives.

  23. Everyone has these “I lost someone too” stories, but I dont. This is one loop I’m not bitter about being closed out of. But, I shouldn’t speak to soon, cuz I have a feeling the loop will open to me soon. My grandpa’s kidneys aren’t doing well and he’s been on dialysis for awhile and I’ve heard there’s not much time after that.

  24. Wil,
    Thank you so much for sharing that with us. I come to this site every now and then. Some stuff you write I don’t agree with. Some stuff you write I couldn’t agree with more. But with your story about your Aunt Val I must tell you that I certainly understand what you were going through on that day. My grandmother died 18 months ago. About a month or so ago I drove past the apartment where she once lived, and went through those exact same feelings of loss and sadness. If one thing I learened through it all is that there’s nothing worse than feeling that sadness than feeling it alone. So, once again, thanks for sharing your story with us.

  25. My Grandmother Died many years ago and you’re right whether it be 10 years or ten ten days- She’s still gone and not coming back- She was the one who taught me mannors and the beginnings of how to cook- she had a huge garden in the backyard, everytime I cook something with chiles or smell certain things like Lavneder- I remember her.
    Her smile and strong will which I got from her.
    Thanks Grandma

  26. You’re a scientist, right? Consider this:
    Energy cannot be created or destroyed.
    Enery can only be changed from one form into another.
    Your Aunt sounds like a woman full of energy. I for one wouldn’t tackle a wasp nest! She’s not gone, just somewhere you cannot go – The undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns.
    Death and change are parts of life, to deny them is to deny life itself.
    The real fact of the matter is your story is not heart-rending because you’ve written about her death, but because you wrote about her life. That is the thing to hold on to. Do not lament what you have lost, but reflect on what you gained by knowing her.
    And all that aside, weep like a child when you cannot offset your grief with logic and rationale. After all, you’re only human.

  27. Is it me, or is Wil completely obsessed with the past? Reminiscing is good and healthy, but not as a person’s constant state of mind. Wil, move forward. Stop reminiscing about Trek and when you were a kid and toys and old friends. It’s the doom of child stars.

  28. Wil,
    I lost my Grandmother in 1977 when I was 9 years old. Up until that point in my life, she was the one who basically raised me because of my distant Mother. (I would come to understand many years later that she suffered from, and still suffers from, bipolar disorder.) The feeling I get whenever I see her house, all these years later, is still the same becauseI was the one who found her after she had her stroke. It came completely out of nowhere. One minute she was fine and I went out to play when she laid down to take a nap and the next I couldn’t wake her up. I never cried so hard in my life at her funeral. When we got back to her house, I was so pissed off that everyone was going through her stuff and acting so uncaringly(?). Unfortunately I did not have the same experience with her belongings as you did, her family was so messed up and narrow minded and greedy that I will not talk to them to this day. I miss my grand-m

  29. Wil, you tell your stories so well that I feel like I’m there with you. This story about your Aunt made me cry too as I was reading it. Thank you for sharing your memories, and please continue to do so.

  30. Wil,
    Once again you’ve outdone yourself. If I was near, I’d give you a hug. Thanks for sharing.
    Love you.
    Mean it.

  31. This entry brought tears to my eyes, Wil. I just lost one of my great-uncles this past Monday. I won’t be able to go to the funeral, as it’s halfway across the country and my job is keeping me here. I had 2 great uncles I was especially proud of, and the other passed away several years ago. We were able to keep that house and most of the things in the family.
    I hear what you’re saying. Thank you for saying it. Hugs from a long way off (Massachusetts). This is what the internet — hell, this is what Writing — is all about. And you do it so well.

  32. Way to go, Wheaton…you made me cry.
    Not that it’s a hard sell right now. My mom died fairly suddenly earlier this year and I just had to move my dad up here where I live and into assisted living due to dementia.
    Tomorrow I leave to go bring the last of their furniture up and put the house they lived in for the last few years up for rent. This isn’t even the house I grew up in (that one got sold several years ago so my dad could chase the last of many dreams that wouldn’t come to fruition) and it’s still incredibly painful. It’s like admitting she’s gone all over again.
    And does things like make me pour out my heart to strangers on the internet just because they’ve had a similar experience…;-)

  33. Damn you for making me cry. And thank you for sparking so many amazing memories of my own aunt, who died in May. I wish I could tell you how to get past missing her, but the truth is, I haven’t figured that trick out myself yet. Love and light to you.

  34. Once again, Wil grows up and tells us about it.
    Thanks, dude.
    [and btw, “it’s” only applies to “it is”, not the possessive (i.e. “I saw its shining face”, not “I saw it’s shining face”). Granted, grammar is not the first thing on most people’s minds when they are writing something like this. I’m stopping now.]

  35. Morrissey Wrote:
    “Is it me, or is Wil completely obsessed with the past? Reminiscing is good and healthy, but not as a person’s constant state of mind. Wil, move forward. Stop reminiscing about Trek and when you were a kid and toys and old friends. It’s the doom of child stars.”
    Perhaps Wil is just proud of his ‘past’ — the real question here is “What’s so shameful about yours’?”
    Just curious. πŸ˜‰

  36. Wil, thank you for sharing this. My own grandmother has been gone now for 20 years and I still carry with me the memories of her strength and caring.
    The memory I wish I didn’t have was of her last week in the hospital when her strength was gone and could not care for herself. I sometimes think she decided to let go of life rather than endure it in that condition.
    Soemtimes a quick and painless death is a better bargain than merely existing.

  37. That was the best damn thing you have posted. I had a Grandma who was similar and reading your post brought it all back.
    You found your calling, Wil. Be a writer, you will make tv and movies better for knowing the process and because you write what is part of all of us, but say it so eloquently.
    Please keep writing; I, for one, will keep reading.
    – Rachel

  38. if wil doesn’t write about his work on star trek, about his past and old friends and toys…that would leave him with politics and religion to write about…that’s what you want morrisey isn’t it!…too bad…you’re getting a real person instead…everybody’s got issues…so hang around…you may learn something here.

  39. by the way morrisey…i’m pretty sure this isn’t wil wheaton’s constant state of mind…it’s only his blog…when he leaves the keyboard i’ll bet he thinks about all sorts of things!

  40. You asked why your dad brought you instead of your younger, stronger brother.
    Just a thought: perhaps you needed the trip to your Aunt Val’s house more than he needed the younger, stronger help. Dads can be smart that way. :)

  41. From BBSPOT::
    Reasons Steve from Dell Should be Fired
    11. Michael Dell tired of hearing “Dude you’re getting a… you!”
    10. Addiction to canned air becoming a real problem.
    9. Was seen near the HP headquarters wearing a cow costume.
    8. Too many girls are buying computers.
    –> 7. More “computer savvy” Wil Wheaton close to signing a deal.

  42. Wil, it’s entries like this that not only keep me coming back to your site, but that make me hope you’ll write a book someday. You can paint a very vivid picture with words and evoke the same emotions in others that you must have been feeling. This entry reminded me of those that I’ve lost over the years. I remember feeling that same “it’s not fair” when a favorite uncle (not really related, but we called him uncle) died too young. And it brought back warm memories of my Mummi and my Dadijan. Thanks.

  43. Morrisey- Wil is not obessed with the past.I am positive that it is not his “constant state of mind.” The past is also a part of our future. So he talks about his past, it is so cool that he lets us know as much as he does about himself. Most actors don’t even update thier website themselves. Wil is awesome.

  44. Me thinks “Morrisey” — (if that’s his real name — arghhh! I hate it when people don’t use their real names!!!) — anyhoo, me thinks hat Morrisey is a troller.
    What I’d like to see besides more great writing by Wil (he lets me call him Wil) is some more nude photos of Wil washing his Mazda Miata in the hot afternoon sun. Especially when he’s only wearing his Starfleet issued COM-Badge.
    So… how ’bout it Wil?!?
    And Morrisey! Go find a REAL fishing hole!
    Great! Now I got a cramp in my hand.
    That’s the real poop!
    -Mclean Stevenson

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